“Resurrection: It’s Not Just for Dead People Anymore”
Jonesborough Presbyterian Church
27Some Sadducees, those who say there is no resurrection, came to him28 and asked him a question, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, leaving a wife but no children, the man shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother. 29Now there were seven brothers; the first married, and died childless; 30then the second 31and the third married her, and so in the same way all seven died childless. 32Finally the woman also died. 33In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had married her.”
34Jesus said to them, “Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage; 35but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. 36Indeed they cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection. 37And the fact that the dead are raised Moses himself showed, in the story about the bush, where he speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. 38Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.” (NRSV)
According to Harper’s Bible Dictionary, the Sadducees appeared in Judaism sometime in the second century BCE. The Jewish historian Josephus describes them as a particularly wealthy sect, men obsessed with power and privilege, and who tried to cultivate close relationships with Rome.1 Whether intentional or not, they also developed adversarial relationships with the Pharisees, who—as religious leaders went—were more popular with regular folks. Josephus says that in spite of all their groveling and grasping, the Sadducees “were influential with only a few wealthy families…boorish in their social interaction…encouraged conflict with rather than respect for their teachers, [and] were more stern than the Pharisees in recommending punishments for crimes.” They also deliberately sought to create social and political division in Judea by siding with the Hasmoneans against Herod.2 The Hasmoneans, or Maccabees, tended toward the outwardly rational but thoroughly idolatrous fusion of faith with political ambition and military dominance. Holding to very literal interpretations of the law, the Sadducees also denied the resurrection because they didn’t see it spelled out specifically in scripture.
For untold eons, the seductive cocktail of material wealth, violent power, tribalism, and religious fundamentalism has created illusions of certainty, of being right and pure. And aren’t those the very things Jesus calls fragile foundations? (Mt. 7:26-27) It’s little wonder that after the fall of the temple in 70CE, the Sadducees basically disappeared from history.3 They had built on the sandy soil of selfish interest instead of the spiritual bedrock of compassion, mercy, and love for neighbor.
Luke presents the Sadducees in this same less-than-favorable light. When they approach Jesus with a question about levirate marriage—the practice of handing wives down from brother to brother like last year’s sweatshirt—these men not only try to trap Jesus in a theological quandary, they’re making fun of everyone who disagrees with them on the issue of resurrection. Because the scenario they present is absurd, they demonstrate particular contempt for women, the poor, and the homeless. Jesus doesn’t take the bait; but, in his characteristic with-compassion-for-all way, he does bite.
Jesus begins by distinguishing between “this age” and “that age”—this agebeing the temporal world in which we live, the age in which people “marry and are given in marriage,” and that age being whatever existence lies beyond the life we experience between birth and death. And in that age, he says, there is holiness and wholeness that transcends anything our this-age minds can fully comprehend.
Then, Jesus affirms marriage, calling it one of the key human relationships in which we actually touch the realm of resurrection. He describes marriage as a microcosm of eternal life itself. The NRSV uses the image of family by calling us “children of God” and “children of the resurrection.” In The Message, Eugene Peterson says it this way: In the resurrection we’ll “have better things [than marriage] to think about…All ecstasies and intimacies then will be with God.”
“All ecstasies and intimacies…will be with God.” I hear in that somewhat suggestive wording of today’s text the deeper suggestion that the relationships we enjoy in this age do, in truth, hold a measure of the holiness and wholeness that we proclaim awaits us in that age—and probably a greater measure than most of us imagine. So, our relationship with God always and necessarily includes all of our relationships, from marriage and family, to churches and communities, to our wider associations.
When Jesus brings up Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, he brings up their stories. He intentionally recalls Abraham’s and Sarah’s fervent desire for the intimacies of parenthood, Isaac’s passionate desire for the ecstasies of bestowing his blessing and birthright on his elder son, Esau, and the ecstasies, intimacies, and agonies of Jacob’s long-suffering love for Rachel. And God mentions all three of these ancestors in the faith while Moses, who is tending Jethro’s flocks in the wilderness-beyond-the-wilderness, stands in ecstatic, barefoot awe before a bush burning with the very presence of God.
Jesus says that God’s declaration to Moses means that God continues to enjoy relationship with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob even while in relationship with whoever is currently alive on the earth. The Church calls this “the communion of saints.” By living in communion with God, we live in communion with all who are, with all who have been, and with all who will be. Because resurrection describes the eternal love that precedes us, the eternal love that awaits us, and the eternal love that permeates our death-obsessed present, it’s more than our proclamation. Resurrection is our deepest and truest reality, even here, even now.
Paul says as much in his letter to the Ephesians: “But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ…and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 2:4-6) Even when we were dead, God made us alive with Christ and seated us with him the heavenly places. Paul speaks of resurrection as a truth which is as fundamental to our current experience of the Creation as gravity and the change of seasons.
Living a resurrection life means, come what may, following Jesus in his ways of compassion, justice, and peace. Living a resurrection life means, come what may, studying and practicing the wisdom of Jesus, the wisdom of spiritual wakefulness, the wisdom that sees through all the angry, fearful, desperate noise around us and continues to bear witness to the sacred presence of God in all things, even, and perhaps especially, in those people who seem to want to create conflict and division.
Jesus’ interaction with the Sadducees who try to ambush him illustrates what it can look like when a person seeks union with rather than triumph over. And again, that’s what a resurrection life does. It humbles us and opens us to deeper and wider relationships by revealing to us that God is somehow present, or at least eager to be present, in all people and all things.
God, grant us the courageous vision and the humble gratitude to live resurrection lives so that in all we say and do we recognize, proclaim, and share the great love with which you love us. Amen.
1Harper’s Bible Commentary, Paul J. Achtemeier, Gen. Ed. Harper&Row, Publishers, San Francisco. 1985. pp. 891-892.
2Ibid., pp. 588-592.
3Patrick J. Willson in his article Homiletical Perspective in Feasting on the Word, Year C/Vol. 4. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, Eds. Westminster/John Knox Press, Louisville, KY, 2009. Pp. 285-289.